In an interview with Krista Tippett, cellist Yo-Yo Ma reflects on the transitions inherent in life while quoting Isaac Stern: “The music happens between the notes.”
“What does this mean?” Yo-Yo Ma pauses to ask. “How do you get from A to B? Do you glide into the next note, is it a smooth transfer, or do you have to reach—physically, mentally or effortfully to go from one note to the next? Could the next note be part of the first note? Or could the next note be a different universe? Have you just crossed some amazing boundary and suddenly the next note is a revelation?”
Making music is infinitely complex. It takes mental and emotional and spiritual investment. A meaningful life requires the same.
As much as we would like it to, life never stands still. I am halfway through a summer where I have spent some blessed downtime focusing on my first book project. The thought of the academic year beginning in a few short weeks makes my heart heavy. But Yo-Yo Ma has made me pause here to ask, “How do I move from one note of life to the next?”
In Psalm 98 the Israelites are encouraged to “sing a new song” while living in exile. They were far from home, living in a foreign land with strange new foreign ways. It was a painful, uncomfortable time. Yet the psalmist encouraged them to sing. Find your way to the next note, I imagine the Psalmist advising, and, find the way your notes connect to make your song.
According to the psalmist, we each have a song to sing. Knowing this can be a comfort in the in between times when we find ourselves stretched, uncomfortable, depressed, or grieved. Our lives have meaning and purpose, but how we make our way from one note of life to the next determines the melody we make. It would serve us well, then, to lean in and listen; to be intentional in the in between times; to find our way with purpose, confident that our notes will eventually connect in a song that only we are meant to sing.
[Feature Image: Pogo1]
I made a mistake yesterday. While waiting to catch my flight home from a board meeting, I joined a debate about gun control on a friend’s Facebook thread. I don’t typically participate in such debates via social media. Our emboldened rhetoric behind the anonymity of the computer screen is, I believe, problematic. But I was a bored traveler, feeling, I admit, a tad self-righteous.
I did not know the people I was debating. They were friends of my friend on Facebook. I tried to choose my words wisely, tried to speak with respect. But the debate was more about winning than it was about listening—each of us determined to have the last word. I finally withdrew from the thread, not because I didn’t have more to say, but because the debate itself felt soul-sucking. The weight of our gun-addicted culture became more than I could bear.
On the drive home from the airport, I tuned in to Krista Tippett’s “On Being” podcast. Tippett was interviewing Rabbi Arnold Eisen on the life and legacy of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a spiritual leader whom I greatly admire. Towards the end of the interview Tippett read Heschel’s words aloud:
In his essay, “Choose Life,” Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “Just as we are commanded to love man, we are also called upon to be sensitive to the grandeur of God’s creation. We are infatuated with our great technological achievements; we have forgotten the mystery of being, of being alive. We have lost our sense of wonder, our sense of radical amazement at sheer being. We have forgotten the meaning of being human and the deep responsibility involved in just being alive. Shakespeare’s Hamlet said: ‘To be or not to be, that is the question.’ But that is no problem. We all want to be. The real problem, biblically speaking, is how to be and how not to be.”
Heschel’s words about life—the wonder, radical amazement, and mystery of sheer being—felt like balm for my wounds. After listening to people defend our right to bear arms and our need for guns, I needed to hear from someone who valued life in this extraordinary way. Heschel’s words also left me pondering, though. How should I be? How should I not be? Even as I asked myself these questions, I knew the answers. I should be peace, I should be love, I should be for life, not against it, and be for all that honors the grandeur of God’s creation. Fighting for peace in a Facebook debate where one side seeks to verbally conquer the other is counter-productive and hypocritical. We are not going to heal our addiction to violence with more verbal violence. So I will put this mistake behind me. I will live more responsibly today.